No doubt we are all familiar with the obligatory baby Jesus in the manger scene rolled out every Christmas, but the early 18th-century inhabitants of Catalonia, Spain, and certain areas of Southern France started a different tradition that lives on to this day.
Unlike the English-speaking version of the Nativity scene, Catalonians at Christmas time actually build a large model of the city of Bethlehem. The caganer, whose origins have been lost in time, is a particular and highly popular feature of these modern interpretations.
Often tucked away into a small corner of the nativity scene, one can find a lone figure caught in the act of defecation. There are more than a handful of guesses as to how and why this tradition started ranging from the figure representing the equality of all people (everyone poops!) or that is symbolizes the idea that God will manifest himself when he is ready, without regard whether humans are ready for him. Still others believe it is a tradition grown from comic relief.
Whatever your thoughts, if you find yourself traveling in the region around Christmas time it’s highly encouraged to take a second look at the scaled down Bethlehem and see if you can find their little “caganer.”
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